Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love bags in general and messenger bags in particular. I've owned a bunch over the years so when LowePro asked me to take a look at the Pro Messneger 180 I was happy to do it.
The Pro messneger 180 AW
Let me start by saying that I like the bag. It is a well thought out, well constructed daily journalism workhorse.
It has an incredibly low key, almost stealth like exterior. The only marking is on the back and it is in the the same slate grey as the rest of the bag. It is a perfect urban cary bag, the sort of thing that you could have on your shoulder during a robbery and no one would bother looking inside. Nothing about it says "valuables here." Plus it looks good. This bag wouldn't be out of place shooting on the street or in a night club.
The exterior is a synthetic canvas that sheds water well. It has been raining a lot lately in Tennessee yet the cameras have remained dry. I've yet to deploy the concealed rain cover, but there is one stashed in a hidden velcro compartment. There are two elastic exterior pockets on either side of the bag. They are big enough for a small water bottle, or a telephone, or (in my case) a head lamp. The zippered back compartment is big enough for a moleskin and your airline tickets or a copy of the Atlantic. That back pocket also has a bottom zipper that turns the pocket into a trolley sleeve -frequent fliers out there will like that feature.
The bag opened with a Canon 5D MK II, 70-200 f 2.8, 35 f 1.4, 24 f 1.4 spare cards and batteries.
Inside, there is enough space for a camera, a couple lenses, batteries and cf cards. The camera is carried lens down, ready to shoot. The bag is tall enough for a 70-200 f 2.8 or a 300 f 4. Right now I have a Canon 70-200, on one side, a 5D MK III with a 35mm f 1.4 in the middle and 24mm f 1.4 on the other side. You could fit a micro 4/3 camera in place of a lens. The lining is plush and gentle on your camera.
There is a zippered front pocket with slots for pens, cards, batteries and keys. There is also a zippered pocket almost hidden inside the body of the camera bag for things that you'd like to keep from losing (it is where I keep my NG ID and my passport).
There is some padding in the bag, but it still wraps around your body to stay close to you as you move. An enormous canvas flap covers the top of the bag and the front pocket. Once closed the bag is locked up pretty tight. Prying fingers aren't going to make their way into it. That is welcomed on shooting on the street or in the metro.
The flap has gotten a lot of attention. Like many bags, it closes with velcro. However, you can fold the lid back onto itself to silence the velcro. In that case the lid stays closed with a sewn in magnet. I found the whole idea pretty dubious until I had to photograph inside a theater a few weeks ago. Do you know how LOUD velcro is inside a quiet theater? With the lid flipped around on itself getting in and out of the bag was SILENT. I'm a believer now. With the velcro shut down it is also very easy to get in and out of the bag. It makes changing lenses without looking pretty easy.
Now there are a couple things that you won't be doing with this bag. You won't be carrying a second dslr body and you won't be carrying a computer. This bag is for shooting not for transport. If you need to cary one body and some lenses comfortably and discretely this might be the bag you are looking for.
The big question is "am I going to keep it?" I think so. This summer I'm teaching a 2 week workshop in London and the Messenger 180 seems like the perfect bag for that city. Good looking, lowkey, big enough of a one body set up and resistant to the terrible London weather.
MSR is $209, street price seems to be about $170 (full discloser Lowpro provided the bag for me to review)